Tyson Foods’ Hunger Relief Program is a very good social media business case. I was going through my files today and I found this old piece written after a Blogwell event which took place in New York two years ago. So here it is with much delay but I thought it was worth reading and publishing anyway. Now that I have gone through it I regret I didn’t publish it earlier on because I think that this business case was and still is very inspirational:
Tyson Foods’ Hunger Relief Program – Blogwell presentation
April 2009, NYC, NY
Tyson, hunger relief, presentation by Ed Nicholson in charge of social media, Tyson foods.
The third presentation of Blogwell number 3 was that of Ed Nicholson, in charge of social media at Tyson foods in the US, and was entitled how Tyson foods, uses social media to build a community around the issue of hunger.
To an extent, this is a similar subject to the one we already tackled in a post about a previous Blogwell presentation which took place in San Jose at the end of October 2008, when Kaiser Permanente presented its initiative against obesity.
This time, even though the approach is similar, the aim is quite the opposite as it is aimed at those people in the US suffering from hunger.
I found the description of how a big company like Tyson is trying to tackle this issue, using social media, quite interesting and inspiring. Tyson’s initiative is not about just about a website. It’s about “engaging people in productive and visible ways” Ed said. And God knows there are many people at Tyson foods, even though their name may not be very well known in Europe.
In Iowa alone 9,000 people are working for them, and up to 10% of its workforce is actually involved in this hunger relief program. This hunger relief, social media initiative is more than “the campaign for Tyson.” Ed added. It is actually used to leverage donations in order to tackle the issue of hunger. It started in 2000 and has been going on for now nine years.
The idea is to use the website in order to “give food to the people who can’t afford it”. Ed is insisting upon the fact that there was already “a phenomenal community engaged in this issue”. These are good stories, which are also very favourable ground for online blogging and donation events.
Tyson foods has already 2,814 followers on twitter (and 8,201 2 years later). The company is actually following very strictly disclosure rules, as per Socialmedia.org guidelines, and it displays its name on its twitter page. The number of people who find food insecure, according to Ed is staggering. This is instrumental in making the social media initiative by Tyson very dynamic. In a matter of four hours, any post can receive up to 800 comments!
There is no doubt very few social media initiatives can attract that many comments in such a little time. Ed insists upon the fact that “these tools change all the time, but relationships are here to stay’”. I think this is a very wise description of the social media context, one has to focus on relationships, not on the tools, which are only a means to an end.
“Some people understand the media part”, Ed says, “but not the social part”. They are not all one-way push tools. They are about “generating communities”. And generating communities, has nothing to do about technicality, it is a human thing, hence the “social” in social media.
Ed says that agencies can’t develop communities for Tyson because they can’t create strategies. It takes times it takes time therefore, and you combine your way in.
Questions and answers
Q: negative posts.
A: They are kept because they give us an opportunity to respond. “You are using hunger for the wrong reasons,” says one very nasty comment on their blog. “But it’s one point of entry in the discussion”, Ed says.
[note, now it’s me talking: As I pointed out many many times, this kind of opportunity to respond is made available in social media, but it will not in traditional media. As as a consequence negative comments on social media in my eyes are less dangerous than in traditional media].
Q: developing policies and guidelines
A: policies and guidelines are about doing what’s right and what’s legal. But Ed insisted upon the fact that policies were not established first. It started off doing the job and then putting the policies in place.
Q: personal versus company
A: Tyson is a company account on twitter, not a personal account, but it’s managed by Ed. He decided to declare it in his own name, rather than using the company name. Sometimes he uses its twitter account to tweet about stuff, which is personal.
Q: health/nutrition issues
approximately 20% of kids (out of 37 million) are by definition obese. Moreover, they can be both obese and malnourished at the same time. Ed says that food banks are also getting into twitter too and that partnerships with agencies are possible.